Aqsarniit hotel in Iqaluit becomes alternative isolation site for COVID-19

·4 min read
Nunavut's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson gives an update on COVID-19 at press conference in Nunavut's Legislative Assembly. (Jackie McKay/CBC News - image credit)
Nunavut's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson gives an update on COVID-19 at press conference in Nunavut's Legislative Assembly. (Jackie McKay/CBC News - image credit)

The Aqsarniit Hotel and Conference Centre in Iqaluit is being used as an alternative isolation site for those who don't have homes or live in overcrowded situations.

Rooms are being offered to individuals exposed to or diagnosed with COVID-19 to reduce the risk that they spread it, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said at a press conference on Tuesday.

There are 31 people currently isolated at the hotel. Some of those people were contacts identified at the city's low barrier shelter. Patterson said there have been too few positive cases at Iqaluit's shelters to publicly announce for privacy reasons.

The low barrier shelter, which is the only one that allows people to stay while intoxicated, was closed over the weekend after all staff were asked to isolate. It regularly accommodates 17 people.

"The people at the hotel are there because they have nowhere else to go or they're trying to prevent spreading it to their family and loved ones and we're trying to support them as best we can," Patterson said.

So far the support for the hotel from the government has included offering personal protective equipment. Public health will be regularly surveillance testing the workplace for COVID-19, Patterson said.

Isolating at the hotel is not mandatory, so some people have left the hotel after checking in.

"If somebody is there and they wish to go back to their house, as long as they're isolated, that's okay," Patterson said.

The shelter will be closed for at least two weeks. Laurel McCorriston is the Uquutaq Society's executive director and runs the low barrier shelter.

She said the government offered help, but the society isn't in a position to accept.

"They offered possible front-line staff to work the shelter if I had someone to supervise or train them and I don't," McCorriston said.

COVID-19 jumps in under-18s

As of Monday, there are 23 cases of COVID-19 in people under the age of 18. On Friday there were fewer than five cases. Patterson said that jump was partly a result of updating data, but the main reason is a change in how the virus is spreading.

The outbreak in Iqaluit started with cases spreading between adults at essential workplaces, but over the weekend transmission was more household-based, with those essential workers inadvertently infecting their children.

The Department of Health is trying to make sure essential workers who are isolating have the supplies they need to stay put, including protective equipment and groceries.

Another person has been medevaced to Ottawa with COVID-19 complications, bringing Iqaluit's total hospitalizations to two.

Medical patients can return home

Premier Joe Savikataaq announced seven new cases on Tuesday. The territory has 85 active cases as of Tuesday, with 83 in Iqaluit and two in Kinngait. The two cases in Rankin Inlet have recovered.

Eight of Iqaluit's cases are at the Baffin Correctional Centre.

Contract tracing over the weekend determined that the cases at the Tammaatavvik medical boarding home were confined to staff.

After testing, medical travellers were cleared to travel home, per the orders any travellers as well as anyone in their household must isolate for 14 days upon their return.

Savikataaq also apologized for not classing the Arctic survival store and the snowmobile repair shops as essential. He said the government has fixed its mistake, saying on the land time is a priority, so people should be able to get the supplies they need.

Patterson said the government's legal department thought that snowmobile repair shops would be covered under the essential exemption for motor vehicle repair.

But the public health orders didn't specifically say the hunting supply store was essential.

"The difference in interpretation wasn't caught until yesterday," Patterson said.

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The City of Iqaluit declared a local state of emergency Monday afternoon at an emergency city council meeting. Iqaluit's mayor Kenny Bell said the emergency empowers the city's bylaw officers to enforce the territorial lockdown rules.

As of Monday, 16,144 Nunavummiut have received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine, while 12,556 residents have received both doses.

Patterson also opted to end Nunavut's travel bubble with the Northwest Territories on Monday, after officials in the N.W.T. announced multiple COVID-19 cases in Yellowknife connected to a school outbreak.